Democrats Will Need New Leadership That Offers Alternatives To Neoliberal Failure

democrats vs republicans
democrats vs republicans

The polls were wrong, the unthinkable has happened, and Donald Trump has been elected the 45th president of the United States, with a Republican Congress. The swing voters, as in most presidential elections of the past few decades, were white working class voters. It would be worthwhile therefore to think about how a large majority of this group ended up voting against their own interests.

Many liberals will blame the voters themselves, seeing them as racist, misogynist, and otherwise backward and ignorant. There is no doubt that Trump voters are worse than average in attitudes towards non-white Americans, immigrants, and women. After all, most of them are Republicans; about 90 percent of Republicans voted for Trump and that is the bulk of his base. The Republican party has, since at least the civil rights movement and legislation of the 1960s and its "southern strategy," been a white people's party. It has also engaged in a "war on women" before Trump took the stage to literally add a lot of insults to the injuries. So, no surprises there, even if he used a police whistle instead of just a dog whistle.

The more important question is what moved the swing voters. And here it must be acknowledged that while racism and sexism were factors, there were also millions of "protest votes." Trump posed as an outsider and many of his supporters liked that he was giving the middle finger to people they didn't like, including the mainstream media and politicians.

But to see how they might be angry enough to vote for someone like Trump -- whom many did not even like -- we have to look at the economic policies that Democrats and Republicans alike have implemented, and how these have ruined the lives and futures of so many Americans.

The media has focused on trade, partly because Trump opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade agreements and attacked Hillary Clinton for supporting them. Although Hillary took a position against the TPP in the campaign, she had previously supported it and there was reason to believe that she would do so after the elections. It certainly didn't help that President Obama launched a serious effort, in the middle of the presidential campaign, to pass the agreement -- aiming for the lame duck congress, where the swing votes would be unaccountable and many would soon be taking new jobs as lobbyists.

But the TPP and "trade" -- the quotes are necessary because the most economically important features of the TPP agreement are not tariff reductions but rather rules that give corporations and patent and copyright holders new rights and privileges -- are mostly stand-ins for a larger set of neoliberal policies that have hurt the majority of Americans over the past few decades. These include, for example, the country's most important macroeconomic policies: fiscal, monetary, and exchange rate policies.

This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on November 9, 2016. Read the rest here.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the new book "Failed: What the 'Experts' Got Wrong About the Global Economy" (2015, Oxford University Press). You can subscribe to his columns here.